Mental skills (10): Defining and Understanding Roles

I vår artikkelserie "Mental Skills for Mentors and Referee Instructors" fra den meritterte dommerinstruktøren Alan Richardson fra England, bringer vi den siste artikkelen om viktige elementer i dommerpsykologien. Serien på 10 artikler har fokusert på hvordan en mentor eller dommerinstruktør bør jobbe med å utvikle dommere, og ikke minst litt om de mentale ferdighetene som da er aktuelle. De fleste bør kunne plukke opp noen gode råd fra Richardsons artikler, både dommere og instruktører, og her kommer den tiende i serien. Seriens siste fokusområde er: "Defining and Understanding Roles".

Part 10: Defining and Understanding Roles

There is no greater waste of a resource than that of unrealised talent.

To be successful, Instructors must deal with less-talented officials and not allow weaknesses to get in the way of strengths. It is difficult to find officials with all the gifts – technical, physical, mental and emotional – who are willing to live a supportive lifestyle.

Officials tend to fall into two categories, those who require high supervision and those who only require low supervision.

High Supervision Low Supervision
Externally motivated, needs constant attention Internally motivated, does not seek attention
Undisciplined, untrustworthy Disciplined, trustworthy
Ego-driven, focused on self Task-driven, focused on performance
Sees problems not challenges Sees challenges not problems
Struggles when partner is poor Survives when partner is poor
Tries to do the job of others Knows and does own job
Cannot let mistakes go Recovers well from mistakes
Inconsistent performer Consistent performer
Needs standards to be set Sets own standards
Creates problems off court Creates no problems off court


Relationships between Instructors and Officials require time, effort and planning if they are to be successful and progressive. The working environment must enable everyone to have a clear understanding and appreciation of the role of the Instructor and the role of others in enabling the group members to succeed.


Defining Roles and Responsibilites of Officials

The individual official will feel ready to officiate only by understanding his/her role and responsibilities on and off the court.

Understanding one’s role and responsibilities and accepting them is a major part of building an official’s confidence and motivation, integrating the official into the requirements of the game.


Officials can evaluate themselves by asking simple questions:

  • Do I enjoy my role and responsibilities?
  • Do I know what is expected of me in all situations?
  • Am I still learning new things about officiating?
  • Do my Instructors still motivate and stimulate me?
  • Do I have to be at my best to maintain my status within the group?

If the officials can do this, they will feel fully engaged in their role and be motivated to meet new challenges and master them. When this is not happening, when practice is routine and unchallenging, the official may become stale, lose motivation and focus and make critical mistakes.

The responsibility of the Instructor/Mentor is to ensure mental clarity and emotional balance by preparing officials for their roles in empathetic, interesting and challenging ways.

Although both officials have a shared responsibility for decision-making, Instructors/Mentors must be able to teach special skills and responsibilities for critical situations. If the official knows that the Instructor/Mentor has a real understanding of his/her ability and potential, the official will be far more willing to accept criticism of performance. This will enhance the relationship between Instructor/Mentor and Official.

It is important that Instructors prepare profiles of individual officials, recognising their strengths and weaknesses, in order to prepare appropriate instruction and tasks. By doing this Instructor will be able to recognise potential mismatches when pairing officials and also when nominating to difficult games. Balancing experience and ability, whilst at the same time affording opportunity, is important for younger officials but equally important for experienced officials when they are expected to perform a supporting role before, during and after the game.

Understanding Roles

The process of establishing clear role definitions, acceptance and accountability, can only evolve by the Instructor/Mentor working together in a democratic manner.

When the official and the Instructor share an understanding of the officials’ role and ability, several benefits will become evident:

  • Communication increases, anxiety decreases
  • The official feels that his/her experience and knowledge are valued
  • The official understands his/her strengths and weaknesses
  • The official self-evaluates and takes responsibility for his/her performance
  • The official is accountable in a more objective manner, reducing the chance of unfair criticism from the Instructor/Mentor
  • Mutual respect increases

The official and the Instructor/Mentor both have the critical information they need to do their jobs under pressure and within the demands of the game.

By establishing his role within the group and taking pride in the fact that he is contributing in a tangible way, a rookie can achieve a sense of control in his officiating life. Not only is he able to learn, he is able to acquire the acceptance and respect of his co-officials.


12 steps to Developing an Official's Ability to Perform

Instructors can help officials by establishing the right learning environment:

  • Set goals. Decide what the official must learn in order to do his/her officiating in the best possible manner
  • Assess the official. How does the officials’ present level of physical, technical, mental and emotional ability fit the requirements of the competition
  • Identify weaknesses that need special attention
  • Design relevant practice and programmes
  • Lead each official forward in small, manageable steps that create an atmosphere of success
  • Give criticism with care. The official will need ongoing evaluation (instruction is the reduction of errors), but it must be positive and productive, encouraging the official to deal with mistakes and criticism as a necessary part of the learning process
  • Treat setbacks as part of the journey. Prepare the official for setbacks, by retaining emotional control and focus on the learning process and error reduction. The smart Instructor will use such errors as a guide for preparing for future possibilities, thereby ensuring relevance
  • Share ownership of the programme with the official. Involvement is more likely to ensure a commitment to see the programme through to the end
  • Use best-practice models. Officials often learn easier and faster if they have a role model to emulate. Young officials, who watch a ‘star’ official on video, officiating in the way that the Instructor wants them to officiate, are soon convinced.
  • Taking an official to a game so that both official and Instructor/Mentor can concentrate on and learn from the performance of the role model
  • Reward progress. Instructors/Mentors must look for officials doing the right things and reward any sign of improvement. Good habits are created by constant repetition of interesting and varied practices
  • Evaluate progress. Officials must see that they are improving if they are to remain motivated, so Instructors may use the following measures:
  1. Objective statistics
  2. Subjective reports – a compilation of the official’s view, the Instructor/Mentor’s view and views of independent evaluators
  3. Video evidence – documentation that the official can see for himself/herself
  4. External approval – promotion to a higher level, nomination to prestigious games or media recognition


Performing within a Team

In a game like basketball, where the officials perform as a team, it is necessary that the officials must do more than simply understand and perform their roles. The successful official must take four steps in developing the team concept:

  • Understand and perform his/her role as a primary contribution to the team performance
  • Develop an understanding and coordination with your co-officials
  • Understand and implement the philosophy and methodology agreed during the pre-game conference
  • Be willing to accept any advice given by senior officials, necessary for the success of the team performance.

As these steps unfold, the Instructor/Mentor might find some officials resistant to change. The Instructor/Mentor will have to employ more skills to reorientate the official from individual to team goals.

Now this is the Law of the Jungle
As old and as true as the sky
And the Wolf that keeps it may prosper
But the Wolf that breaks it must die

As the creeper that circles the tree trunk
The Law runneth forward and back
The strength of the pack is the Wolf
And the strength of the Wolf is the pack


The Challenge Ahead

The process of instruction and getting officials to work within a team framework is becoming more difficult. Rapid changes in society and lifestyle have created a different kind of officials’ mentality – one that is more
self-driven than team-focused and full of impatience.

Officials now question Instructors and the ‘system’ more. They demand greater ownership of their officiating careers and Instructors must respond to this changing agenda to keep officials motivated and focused.

Officials strive to achieve their personal ambitions and will relate to an Instructor/Mentor who can help them get there; an Instructor/Mentor who spends time with them individually and who has the sound expertise to help them improve their officiating and standing. The challenge for the modern Instructor is persuasion not domination.



To achieve a superior mental and emotional state, an official must completely understand his/her role and responsibilities. By jointly developing a programme for improvement, the official and Instructor can make the process easier and successful.

An official cannot succeed by performing in isolation, the past is past, he/she needs to be able to perform in a team environment acknowledging not only their own strengths and weaknesses, but also those of their colleagues. Personal success comes through team success, a team is only as strong as its weakest member, no matter how good or experienced the senior official.

The modern professional game demands a greater degree of professionalism from officials than ever before, those who nominate officials to games are not only looking for talented individuals but those who can work in harmony with others and produce an excellent team performance.

Alan Richardson

By understanding barriers to communication, Officials and Instructors may be able to prevent some of them from developing. Examples of communication breakdowns are:

  • Assumption Instructors assume the Officials know what is required of them and Officials assume that Instructors know how they feel.
  • Difference of opinion although unavoidable, differences must lead to more communication, not less. Parties should always agree to disagree.
  • Personality clashes this too is inevitable, but with communication a common ground can be established so that personal issues can be put aside for game needs.
  • Role conflicts Officials will resent fulfilling roles that do not fit their perception of their best contribution. E.g. experienced referee nominated as Umpire. Instructors can ease matters by sharing their reasons.
  • Power struggles groups of Officials are always evolving and the ranking order will always be considered important. Unless the Instructor settles this by clear and shared communication, matters may deteriorate.
  • Cultural misunderstandings great care must be taken to recognise and understand culturally influenced communication (east v west, north v south).

Officials must consider the words they use and their body language when expressing their message. Check that what you have said is understood.

· Perceived injustices basketball often requires instant decision-making producing opportunities for conflict. Instructors must discipline Officials to respond positively to such conflict. Feedback on their responses enables tension to be released.

· Role changes events occur everyday in professional sport (injury, loss of form, non-selection for prestigious nominations) that force Officials into role changes and possible loss of status. It is essential that Instructors/Mentors are sensitive to this and prevent any decline in communication by being supportive.

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